Living in a time when it seems everyone is obsessed with little more than fame, money and ‘perfect’ beauty, it comes as a breath of fresh air to talk with Russell Simmons, a man who has achieved a level of success that many of us can only dream of, yet who also knows that true happiness is about far more than so-called looks, financial wealth and material possessions.
In a candid and inspirational chat with Flavour, Simmons opens up about his own road to riches, his involvement in the book Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey, and he tells us how to secure success and satisfaction on both a personal and professional level by developing a strong and unshakable sense of self that allows us to fully take control of our lives. Talking to Simmons is much like reading a chapter from his latest book Super Rich: A Guide To Having It All – he offers an unprecedented amount of knowledge and consciousness that you can’t help but feel inspired.
Is there a difference between being wealthy and being rich?
Yes, there is. Rich is in the heart. The fact is, rich is those who are comfortable in their seat and are happy with what they have – wealthy is more about toys and material things.
Would you describe yourself as ‘super rich’, like your book?
As you travel the road to the state of enlightenment, the state of needing less, the happier you are. I’m a much happier person than I was before. Sometimes in life we may think we want the toys and material things, but they have nothing to do with our overall happiness.
Do you think we can have it all?
Yes, there are enlightened beings. There are people in the Buddhist tradition living in the end of suffering, the end of neediness. These people simply want to be good servants; they are free from attachment.
What are your top three top tips for success?
1 Find what you love.
2 Stay on your hustle.
3 Remember, you can’t fail until you quit.
Has there ever been a time when you’ve felt like giving up?
All the time. I’ve had these experiences in every business, but I’ve been fortunate to find ways out of quitting. My dreams that I realise and I see have eventually come true, however, they have always taken longer than I planned.
So what are the things that have kept you going?
Courage and passion. People don’t like big failures. A small failure is enough and they get scared and quit, but there is no failure until you really quit. Ultimately, you just have to keep on your hustle, which is a difficult thing for many people. Every experience in life should be a good teacher, and knowing that you have got your next breath should itself be a blessing.
A lot of people believe once they get rich they will become happy, but in your book you say ‘happy can make you money but money can’t make you happy’. Has there been a time when you’ve been wealthy but still been unhappy?
It happens all the time. There is no correlation between wealth and happiness.
Some people believe that to be a good businessman, you need to be bit ruthless and cold. What do you feel are the key factors to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
I think that’s rubbish. You have to be able to make a wise decision. You can’t give everybody everything they need. You have to give what the company needs. Courage is necessary. You’ve got to do your job, but always smile while you’re doing it.
Many people can spot potential business ventures, but just don’t go for it. Do you think some people are natural-born entrepreneurs, where others aren’t?
I believe that some people have courage to continue on their path, and they really put their head down and stay focused. I think that discipline is really the difference between the successful creative person and the unsuccessful creative person. One of them quit on an invisible dream, where the other stuck with it.
This issue of Flavour is all about taking control. How can people learn to take control of their lives and their destiny?
By sitting still and watching the world from the inside out instead of letting the outside move you around. You want the world to be like a big movie and you want to be the watcher of it, the lead character, as opposed to an extra, or you will get pushed around by the outside world and you will join in with whatever stupidity that the collective are engaging in. If friends are going the wrong way, you need to be able to get off the train and go the other way; but people can’t do it. You need to gain the courage to be able to take control and that comes from being a watcher and separating yourself from the noise.
You talk a lot about investing in ourselves and making sure our hearts are in the right place to achieve real wealth – why do you think this is so important?
You can get pretty money by being sneaky and low, but the drug dealer dies before the drug addict. Give things that are good and that you feel will lift the world up, and you will be lifted. If you give things that drag people down, you will get dragged down quicker and deeper than them.
You were involved in the book Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey, the definitive literary and photographic celebration of hip-hop music and culture. What impact has hip hop had on your life?
My first love was hip hop. I just wanted to expose it to the world. It transformed my life from gang member to music producer. I owe hip hop everything.
In your opinion, who are the current champions of hip hop?
I’m going to tell you Jay-Z because he’s my era. There are some 50 Cent records that make me get excited. I also like a lot of these brand new artists. I like the kid who did the ‘Black and Yellow’ track [Wiz Khalifa].
Who should read Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey?
Anybody who wants to know the history and loves the history. If they’re hip-hop fans, they need the book.
Follow Russell Simmons on Twitter @UncleRUSH
Super Rich: A Guide To Having It All is due for paperback release November 2011
Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey is out now
Words by Lynnike Redway